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urrounded by trees and set
well back from the road,
the soaring white structure
seems almost to float sky-
south of the present site. When
the congregants outgrew their
synagogue and decided to move
farther north, Rabbi Mortimer
Cohen started to imagine the
To some, it looks like a moun- house of worship he wanted.
thin. Others have likened it to a
"He had a dream to create a
pagoda. Still others note its tent- synagogue connected to both
American culture and Judaism,"
In fact, it is a synagogue, the says Mr. Weil. He shared that
only one in the country designed dream with renowned architect
by the eminent architect Frank Frank Lloyd Wright, writing to
him about his wish to build a
Beth Shalom, which is located synagogue that would be, as he
in Elkins Park, a suburb of put it, "a new thing, the Ameri-
Philadelphia, is so distinctive in can spirit wedded to the ancient
design that the American Insti- spirit of Israel." He even included
tute of Architects has awarded it sketches of his imagined syna-
a plaque and designated it as one gogue.
of seven buildings that best show
Intrigued, Mr. Wright agreed
Mr. Wright's style.
to meet with the rabbi. The two
Moreover, in 1978, a model of met on Dec. 3, 1953, in the Plaza
Beth Shalom was dedicated at Hotel in New York City. After-
the Museum of the Diaspora in
Tel Aviv. Of the 18 replicas of
synagogues around the wrold,
Beth Shalom was chosen as the
prototype of the modern syna-
No wonder it's a top sightsee-
ing attraction for Jewish travel-
ers visiting the Philadelphia area
"We have visitors from all over
the world — from Japan, China, wards, Rabbi Cohen wanted to
New Zealand, South America, commission Mr. Wright to design
Europe, South Africa. And every the synagogue.
day you see cameras clicking,"
"But the synagogue elders
says Bob Weil, Beth Shalom's said, `0y, gevalt! He's not Jew-
ish!' " relates Mr. Weil. "So the
His lively and informative tour rabbi replied, 'If the Phoenicians
— an experience in itself— is or- could build a temple for the Jews,
chestrated almost like an un- then this architect can build a
folding drama. So, before we see synagogue for us!"
Indeed he could. Mr. Wright
the drama of the sanctuary, he
gathers us in a downstairs lobby, was then in his mid 80s, working
where he explains the unusual on the Guggenheim Museum,
collaboration between an archi- and he spent three years design-
tect and a rabbi which led to the ing the synagogue, working
creation of Beth Shalom.
closely with Rabbi Cohen.
"Frank Lloyd Wright turned
The congregation's first syna-
gogue was in Logan, eight miles out to be very knowledgeable
MINA OUTECOR RAVIN
RUTH ROWER SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
Beth Shalom was
chosen as the
prototype of the
Visit The Synagogue
That Wright Built
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Beth Shalom Congregation